The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s National Pasta Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before I offer a conspiracy theory in today’s post, lets instead start with a bit of NY Harbor trivia – the height of all ships doing business within the Port of New York and New Jersey is governed by the height of the Verrazano Bridge’s span, as relative to the water. All cargo, military, and cruise ships which can be anticipated to someday enter NY harbor are actually designed with the Verrazano’s height in mind.

That means, ultimately, that this last exemplar of the House of Robert Moses erected in 1964, which sets a maximum height limit of exactly 228 feet over the water (at high tide), controls the design of a good chunk of the planet’s shipping fleets (although you’d be scraping the Verrazano’s deck at 228′ so they build them a bit shorter). A somewhat contemporaneous counterpart to the Verrazano is the Puente de las Américas (Bridge of the Americas) over the Panama Canal, which also plays a major role in the design of maritime vessels, setting a height limit of 201 feet over high water for any and all vessels using the crossing. The other approach to the Port of New York and New Jersey is governed by the Goethals Bridge over the Arthur Kill, which offers 135 feet of clearance, just to be entirely anal retentive about things.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Verrazano Bridge is startlingly enormous, with a main span over the narrows stretching out for nearly a mile at 4,260 feet. Engineer Othmar Amman always liked to point out that his team had to take the curvature of the Earth itself into account when designing and placing the towers, which are off parallel to each other by 1.625 inches. When you add in the approaches on either side to the bridge, the entire thing is some 13,700 feet in length – roughly 2.6 miles. It’s now the 11th largest suspension bridge in the world, and the longest found on either American continent.

There are 143,000 miles of wire incorporated into its cables, enough to wrap around the earth’ equator 5.74 times or stretch half way to the moon. Its towers are 649.68 feet tall, making them the tallest structures outside of Manhattan in all of New York City. It carries nearly 190,000 vehicle trips a day, 69.35 million annually. The best estimates I’ve been able to find suggest that the combined steel of the bridge weighs some 1,265,000 tons.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Verrazano Bridge, due to its position and height, is affected by weather more heavily than any other span in New York Harbor. The roadway will actually sag down about a dozen feet during the summer months due to heat expansion, and the winds one encounter on the upper roadway preclude any discussion of pedestrian or bicycle paths being established. One can personally report that while driving over the thing during storms, my automobile was being rocked from side to side by heavy gusts of wind. The bridge is owned and operated by the MTA Bridges and Tunnels division, which is what Governor Nelson Rockefeller turned Robert Moses’s old Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority into.

The people at Bridges and Tunnels have a set of rules and customs governing the bridge during harsh weather conditions, which all depend on whether or not the roadways are wet or not, and whether the winds are either sustained or gusting. Speed restrictions begin to apply at 30 mph sustained winds and wet roads, while wet conditions coupled with sustained wind over 40 mph might trigger restrictions on crossings by motorcycles, mini buses, tractor trailers and other types of vehicles.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve noticed, over the years, that all of NYC’s bridges are possessed of a certain and unique to the span harmonic. Partially, it’s how the structure of the bridge interacts environmentally and also because of the sound of the vehicles running over it cause a vibration as their tires spin against the decks. To my hearing, the Verrazano makes a “wmmm-mmm-mhoooooosh-shhh” sound, but that could just be the particular interaction with the roadway of the vehicles which a humble narrator crosses the thing within, which have always been passenger cars. It’s efficacious to close your windows on the bridge no matter what, lest a torrent of air suddenly swirl into the passenger cabin, causing disarray and a tumult. I’ll leave it to musicians to tell you what key the Verazzano Bridge is in.

Like all MTA Bridges and Tunnel crossings, certain types of vehicles are forbidden. These types of vehicles (amongst others) include steam rollers, vehicles loaded with unconfined animals or poultry, wheelbarrows, and velocipedes.

Yes, they specifically mention velocipedes in the rules.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always thought, with the born and raised in Brooklyn perspective that I am possessed by, that the bridge is actually some sort of giant shackle forcing the former City of Richmond or… Staten Island… not to secede from the City of Greater New York and join up with New Jersey instead. A mass exodus of Brooklynites, including my own parents, occurred during the late 1980’s and 90’s to Staten Island over the thing. Most of them, to quote my Dad, were “sick of this shit, and wanted to get the ‘eff out of here,” referring to the colloquialized “old neighborhood” which was “better back then.” I still don’t believe the old adage about being able to leave your door unlocked at night. Rent was a bit cheaper on Staten Island however, my parents perception of crime was far lower, and the semi suburban lifestyle encountered on Staten Island appealed to them in their retirement and dotage. They were also one step closer to Atlantic City where they liked to go on weekends away.

Staten Island is “car country,” unlike the city center neighborhood of Astoria, Queens where I now live. Mass transit (other than the ferry, I mean) exists but… you kind of need to have a car on Staten Island.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now for the conspiracy theory: A humble narrator is an idiot, of course, and has always cherished a personal theory that Robert Moses knew something more about NYC than he was letting on. Famously, before beginning his government career, Moses wandered the countryside on foot. Robert Caro suggests that even at a young age, he was planning highways and parks. Pffft… who does that at an early age? Moses was monster hunting, obviously, and he must have found something terrifying during his wanderings. I mean… c’mon… that’s fairly obvious, right?

Why else would he have built a steel and concrete cage around New York Harbor? Would old Bob Moses really have gone out of his way to destroy the coastal wetlands, swamps, and tidal marshes (which are precisely the sort of places you’d find monsters like “Grendels Mother” lurking) of New York Harbor for no reason other than malice? After conquering the human/fish hybrids at Hells Gate with his mighty Triborough, he set about the process of creating the world’s biggest padlock here in the narrows to close the door on his monstrous gate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Who can guess, all there is, that might be imprisoned down there beneath the 1,265,000 tons of steel? Is the arterial highway and bridge crossing system of New York City actually some sort of great barrier designed to keep slime dripping colossi in check? Is there some dark secret which will be held forever unknowable and immobile by the Verazzano Bridge?

What hidden and occult knowledge did Robert Moses take to the grave with him?

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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